CALLOUS crooks smashed their way into a community cricket ground, stealing gardening machinery and causing thousands of pounds of damage.

Wickford Cricket Club was targeted by the thieves overnight between Monday and yesterday.

Club chairman Dan Rouse, 34, said his heart sank when he arrived at the ground to find two garage doors and the gate padlock smashed.

He said: “I got there in the morning and saw the gates open and the padlock had been cut.

“There were also tyre marks around the site.

“They took a strimmer as they couldn’t get the whole doors off the garages.

“We have specialist equipment that we use to keep our ground in good condition, including ride-on mowers.

“The alarm went off and I think it made a bit of a racket.

“I just think it is such a shame and is more aggravation for us.”

He added: “We are all volunteers and we have to now spend our time and effort to fix this when we should be putting this into the club.

“We’ve got to replace the door and up our security.

“In a way, we’ve been very lucky as if they had taken our ride-on mowers it would have been worse as we are at the start of the season.”

He said the two garage doors are beyond repair and could cause about £1,000 each to replace.

He said he is feeling angry and his heart sinks when he thinks about thieves stealing from the club that caters for children.

Mr Rouse - who leads the club, based at Patmore Memorial Sports Ground, Runwell Road - added: “It has come at a bad time for us as we are now getting ready for the season.

“We also have big events coming up soon.

“It is now a lot of hassle for us to sort out.

“As a club we work to invest in youth and we are a community club and welcome everyone.

“Our youth team has about 100 members.

“These people are taking stuff away from children and it is so awful.

“It is the children who lose out when this happens.”

The club chairman said the committee members are very angry about what has happened.

He said everyone knows about the effort and time the club puts in.

Unfortunately, it is not the first of the town’s sports clubs to be targeted by thieves.

Last month crooks stole £16,000 of equipment, including mowers, from Wickford Town Football Club.

Police issued an appeal for information but it is understood the thieves are still at large.

Mr Rouse added: “The damage caused only takes much needed funds away from us to invest into producing a environment for our young people and the whole town to benefit from.”

Residents have offered to help the club after the break-in.

Anyone with information should contact Essex Police on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.